Short-term delay can have long term impact

In the mad rush of ideas that some managers get over the holiday season , some will have decided to cut costs in their operations. In doing so, they will have chosen short-term delays for projects that don’t bring a quick return.

I’ve even seen blogs and advice from management consultants specifically saying things like, “Defer discretionary projects which are not able to make acceptable cash returns in the short-term”.

That is the wrong message because it looks at projects in isolation from each other and the organisation.

Most projects are discretionary – it is management’s choice to do them.  Very few projects organisations undertakes are mandatory: compliance with a legal requirement, what else?

Think carefully about your projects and work out which are mandatory, which are strategically driven, those that are responding to customers, those that enhance capability, those that are research for the future and those that just seem like a good idea.  Then work out how big and when the benefits will arrive: long-term, mid-term, short-term. Then look at the linkage between projects – will it help if you do some before others?

After managing a number of change projects, I recognised that sometimes projects start to fail simply because the other projects that were planned to run round them to prepare the way hadn’t got things in place that would make the project successful. Sometimes these projects had been totally unrelated on paper:

  • a delayed reorganisation that should have been unrelated but meant that appropriately experienced senior people were not available for key positions on the project for its last stages
  • a computer system upgrade that was delayed for sensible  operational reasons but meant that a small system could not be installed for a new way of working in one department (it wasn’t compatible with the old system)
  • the retirement of a product was delayed to satisfy a large customer order – that meant there had to be a special order process created in the new way of working just for that customer.

Managing the portfolio of work needs to look at the impact of dependencies within and between the projects.  A project’s objective is designed for a future environment when we first define the project: the people, technology and way of working may not be there when we start but must be to finish.

Paying attention to the assumptions and dependencies listed in the project’s plans, logs or in the minds of the project management team will help identify those changes. These need to be reviewed several times in the life of a project to make sure you reach your destination.  To manage these at portfolio level it is vital that project management report the assumptions and dependencies to the portfolio management and raise issues on them as early as possible.

About 3triangles
Helping organisations make change happen in 3 key areas: strategic change, deliver tactical impacts, efficient and effective processes. All blog content (c) 2009 - 2012 Carol Long and Three Triangles Performance Ltd

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